NY Mets: The great Michael Conforto fear is the Daniel Murphy treatment
By Tim Boyle
What’s the worst thing that can happen if the New York Mets don’t re-sign Michael Conforto? The club’s longtime outfielder is headed to free agency this winter and not someone maybe even worth the qualifying offer. He has been miserable all year long and nothing seems to suggest any obvious reason for the struggles.
It’s becoming more and more accepted that Conforto will not be on the club next season—and not because ownership is making a mistake either. Fans have turned or at least understand how hard it is to pay a man after putting together the worst year of his career.
Just because the Mets do the smart thing and let him leave in free agency doesn’t mean a nightmare won’t happen. A big fear all fans could have is that Conforto gives the Mets the “Daniel Murphy treatment.”
Does Michael Conforto blossom after leaving the Mets?
It’s a tale Mets fans have seen plenty over the years. Once a guy leaves this organization, he develops into something great. I use Murphy as the example in this case because he’s the best recent player to depart Flushing and put together several solid seasons.
Not only that, he did it in the same division.
The circumstances with Conforto and Murphy are vastly different. Murphy went into free agency after a nice year and a legendary postseason. The former Mets second baseman cranked up his home run stroke to 11 and led the team to the World Series with home runs aplenty. Two years older than Conforto when he reached free agency, age was a bit of a factor in his free agent candidacy.
Rather than meet his contract demands in the winter, the Mets traded for Neil Walker to play second base. He was a one-year rental that ended up returning the following season on the qualifying over. Meanwhile, Murphy settled on a three-year pact with the rival Washington Nationals at a modest per production contract at $37.5 million.
His first year away from New York featured a runner-up MVP season complete with 47 doubles, 25 home runs, and 104 RBI. Murphy hit .347 for the Nationals and would finish his tour in D.C. with a batting average 41 points higher than he had in New York and an OPS 175 points more. Murphy became a legitimate slugger just as Conforto could maybe become one of the top hitting outfielders in the league.
Waiting for the very best of Michael Conforto
We have season flashes of Conforto over the years. In 2017, he was well on his way to a career year with 27 home runs in 109 games. An injury then cut his year short.
Another great “what if” example came in 2020. In his 54 games played, Conforto slashed .322/.412/.515. Fans were beginning to believe that maybe he could hit for average moving forward. This hasn’t been the case whatsoever in 2021 as he fights to finish the year hitting above the Mendoza Line.
The great fear of Conforto leaving the Mets and “figure it out” is something fans have had to deal with plenty. We could say the same thing about Noah Syndergaard. To a much lesser extent, it already happened with the catcher duo of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. By no means the next Mike Piazza, those two did at least manage to find their big league swings.
The worst thing that can happen for a Mets fan is to see Conforto sign a contract with a rival team and take a stab at winning the MVP. Every preseason, Conforto’s chances of winning the league’s award is at least discussed among fans. Having never even received a single MVP percentage point, many have lost faith.
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At his age, Conforto has time to turn things around. It might not be in Queens next season. At best, if he does leave, we can only hope it happens in a division far, far away. Fortunately, Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, and Aaron Judge are all right fielders on the biggest rivals the Mets have. The Daniel Murphy treatment may not take place exactly as prescribed. But would any of us be shocked if we get the generic version and Conforto does something amazing with the San Francisco Giants?